Johnathan Chait recently posted an article about the oppressive nature of political correctness. He defines political correctness as “a style of politics in which the more radical members of the left attempt to regulate political discourse by defining opposing views as bigoted and illegitimate.” The examples he uses of current day political correctness range from invocation of the term ‘mansplaining’, the use of ‘trigger warnings’ and the emergence of ‘micro-aggressions.’
His final conclusion is that political correctness is an ‘undemocratic creed’.
It is important to make a distinction at this point. Political correctness does not mean that certain types of speech are illegal. Yet, certain people are diverted from making certain statements for ‘fear’ that they might invoke the wrath of the political correctness police. Essentially he wants to live in a world where people can say what they want without facing criticism.
The basis of so-called politically correct speech is the idea that you have to be sensitive of other genders, races, sexualities and distinguishing characteristics. It is not surprising that these issues have emerged today given our growing awareness that society is not as binary as it once was.
When you have grown up in a world where you did not face societal boundaries, where you had more opportunities and did not have to worry about systemic discrimination you don’t need to worry so much about how things like speech can reinforce an unfair system. However, when you belong to any group of people who are treated as less than, language matters.
It is not just derogatory words that are at issue. It is assumptions as to how the world works without taking into account other viewpoints. The idea that you might define “opposing views as bigoted and illegitimate” perhaps might be because those views are, in fact, bigoted and illegitimate.
Inequality is not just the laws we put in place. It is our treatment of other people. When your actions not only lack consideration of and respect for other people, but also perpetuate a system which fundamentally oppresses them, then you deserve to be called out.
This is why political correctness is important. If certain assumptions and viewpoints are not challenged then this unfair system never changes. This not only strengthens the views of those who discriminate, but those who are different find it much more difficult to fight for equality or to risk backlash from the rest of society.
These are not just words; they are tools used by the majority to entrench their position of power. We should not take for granted our achievements, such as making it illegal to discriminate based on colour, gender, race or sexuality, by citing the right to free speech which isn’t being threatened in this context. Even if it were, can we really say your right to be a bigot is more important than the right not to be oppressed?
Australian columnist Richard Ackland perhaps said it best when he asked “What is it that these people really want to say about race, colour, etc. that they are currently chilled from saying?” What magnificent freedoms would we receive if the ‘political correctness police’ didn’t exist?
Even the term ‘political correctness’ is ultimately a slur, a means for commentators to divert attention away from and degrade the increasingly liberal conversation about the resolve of racial, gender and social class discrimination. The irony lies in the fact that he is arguing that this PC response that should be stifled.
The difference between today and twenty years ago is that there is a platform by which the public can express their outrage, exercising their right to free speech. If a celebrity, or a columnist, decides to use a word, phrase or idea that is accepted as socially abhorrent, they can no longer expect acceptance.